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by David Truman

Q: Sometimes I feel like everything is going okay, but lately I've been wishing I had more love in my life.
A: Are you sure you want it?
Q: I think so.
A: Love does resemble the ultimate comfort to us, no doubt. Like a blanket of warm swirling clouds to enfold us and protect us in warmth and happiness. In that aspect love is the absolute security blanket, the paradigm of all creature comforts. When we think of love all sorts of visions may come to mind, visions of how perfectly we were nurtured as children, how safely we were swaddled in some breathy cooing, how perfectly we were adored and held above all possible harm and grief, far from all the vicissitudes of mortal existence. And then come the visions of luxuriating in some sensual delight, gently feathered in peaceful passion by kind fingers. Every sort of soft intimate delight. Who could turn down such unspeakable pleasures? Who would?
Q: I wouldn't.
A: But yet you do fear love, don't you? What do you suppose it is that you fear, if not all that wonderfulness?
Q: Intimacy, I guess. Being known. Having somebody get to know me.
A: There are many aspects to love then, as we consider the subject, and it is not all simply attractive. Love asks a great deal of us, and is not simply a passive form of indulgence like sunbathing. When you say you want love in your life, you must take the entirety of what love amounts to into account. Otherwise you could very easily sabotage the possibilities of love in your life because there are aspects of love that you fear subliminally, but have not dealt with consciously. Those can so dampen your enthusiasm that they can secretly poison your chances.
Q: Basically I've always thought of love as perfect.
A: Perhaps it is perfect, but if it is, we still may have difficulty in facing perfection. The fact is, most of us find it extremely difficult to face another human being, perfect or otherwise, directly. Love involves that. Almost the instant we really face each other, we feel this tendency to experience big emotions. Have you ever been to the beach? You may start out with some eminently superficial motivation to go down to the shore to pick up a few pretty sea shells, something innocuous. But when you get there you find yourself gazing out on the ocean. Gradually a certain feeling of awe begins to arise in you, as you get this sense of the power and alien majesty of what you are confronting. It makes you feel small, and a little bit vulnerable. Your pleasure outing has turned quite unexpectedly into a confrontation with the infinite.
The same thing happens in human relationships. You might start out intending to be casual and glib, but there often comes a time when you begin to feel the weight of it, the power of it, and you feel exposed; you want to retreat somewhere. The fear that arises at that time is the fear of the actual profundity of love, of human beings, human emotions in love relationships. It is impossible to truly enter into any meaningful interaction without running into that syndrome, unless you are completely disposed to it, unless you have penetrated your fears of love completely.
Love is not ultimately a consolation, a refuge for the weak and weary, the timid and insecure. Love is for the stout of heart. Love requires you to face another being squarely, and to be squarely faced. All the feelings that arise in the process must be experienced headlong, admitted, known, lived, resolved in the context of your meeting. Everything you think and fear will bubble to the surface in the intensity of the process of loving. To move through this boldly, to persist and not to collapse, is required of lovers. If fear gets the better of you, you will find yourself engaged in acts of avoidance that will tend to erode established love relationships, or discourage the advent of new ones.
Q: It is hard for me to believe that I am avoiding love on one hand, because I think about it a lot. On the other hand, I must be doing something, because not much is coming my way.
A: There are numerous insidious ways we have of not getting close to people, and because we would never like to be party to such a dismal confession as, "I am avoiding or ruining love," we are almost invariably unconscious of what we are doing in the way of sabotage. At least we claim unconsciousness.
One sure fire way to avoid or abort love is to do nothing at all. As an avoidance passivity is effective not only because it makes love impossible and prevents anything from being responsibly created, but also because it is hard to prosecute someone for doing nothing. Nothing is not considered an act; sins of omission are not the easiest sins to recognize, in oneself or others. And yet it is obvious that if one does nothing, nothing will happen, and to have nothing happen is certainly an effective avoidance.
So if you find yourself being relatively inactive in pursuit of your relationships, and doing a lot of waiting for whatever is supposed to happen on its own, or to be done by someone else, then take that into account. Not to say that love can ever be forced, but there is a line in there somewhere between forcing the issue and having it die of neglect or malnutrition.
Love does require enthusiastic participation, or whoever is involved with you will rightly tend to assume that you do not want to be sufficiently implicated to be a part of a dynamic relationship. Often we have such magical ideas about the way love is going to manifest that we tend to overlook the fact that love is the product of two people. And no matter how much we hope in chemistry, it takes great energy on everyone's part to create and maintain any relationship. Otherwise it cannot thrive.
Q: I feel I am quite active. What I find happening is I have gotten close to people to a certain point but then it seems to fizzle out or it doesn't seem to get any further.
A: Are you really paying attention to the people you're with or are you just doing things together?
Q: Both, I guess. I feel I am paying attention.
A: I'm sure you are to a certain degree, and at the same time you might stop to consider what the primary focus is. There are ways to avoid love and the direct experience of loving even while being with someone, that are easy to miss. Let's say you decide to have a particularly interesting day together. So you start out taking a nice picnic to the beach and while you are there you collect some shells and driftwood, climb on the rocks, and take a nice jog down the beach. Then you enjoy your picnic and the very scenic drive home. You savor the fare and the wine at an excellent restaurant, take in a movie and go home. You listen to the news, go to bed, read a magazine, enjoy a little sex, and go to sleep. What could be a more poetic expression of togetherness?
Now there is no doubt that the enjoyment of aesthetic pleasures could be a wonderful adjunct to your experience of mutual enjoyment. On the other hand, it is also possible that in the midst of the act of concentration on such pleasures, the couple could have entirely missed the direct experience of one another. There is always this beating heart beside you, no matter what you may experience together, and in it there is every kind of reaction, hope, fear, mood, understanding, emotion, and desire. To have a relationship without being appraised of the nuances of the beings involved is itself a form of withdrawal or avoidance. Not that there has to be constant engagement in endless subjective content, but there is a stronger tendency in most people to go to the other extreme in obsessive orientation to some form of outward experience. Even a sandwich can come between you, and you could spend an entire day which amounts to little more than the mutual appreciation of things on the level of mustard, in effect. The mustard, the bread, the sea, the woods, the sunset, the waiter, the news, the sex. Even the objectification of the sex experience can make what might be intimate into a third object for the two lovers to focus on to the exclusion of each other. It is subtle, at that point, to hone in on the difference between relating to each other and relating to something else, some kind of subject matter, but the distinction is dramatic at the feeling level. You know when someone is really looking at you, and you know when you are looking at someone. We find it much easier, in general, to take the edge of intensity off everything by finding endless ways to focus elsewhere.
Q: In my last relationship, I really did try to communicate a great deal.
A: About what?
Q: About all kinds of things.
A: Did you really want that relationship to work?
Q: Yes.
A: Did you tell him so?
Q: Not in those words.
A: Maybe you could tell somebody that, if it's important to you. So many things can be communicated, in so many ways. The least popular way is the most direct, and we usually save it as a last resort, if anything. There are endless ways to use speech as a form of avoidance, even including saying the right words in a joking or insincere way. You must have noticed so-called gregarious people doing all this communication with a kind of tone that makes what they are saying difficult to take seriously. Most of us find it hard to shoot straight from the hip, without being oblique, frivolous, complicated, or equivocal. For instance, if you've met someone you like, you could say, "It was nice meeting you," but if you really meant that, you could do much better than to disguise your real sentiment in a cliché. You could say instead, "I can't tell you how much it means to me to have met you. I'm so excited about it. I want to see you again as soon as possible, and I'm anxious not to have you slip out of my life, because there's a lot more I want to share with you." It may not always seem possible to say something like that in a new relationship, but it may be. In an ongoing relationship it is not only possible, but essential.
What about your previous relationship? Maybe you could have expressed your concern directly: "I want this relationship. I want to be close to you. I don't want to be separate from you. I don't want to make a joke out of it. I don't want to use forms of sarcasm, skepticism, belligerence, humor, superficiality, to prevent us from having a deep and heartfelt relationship in which we touch each other, we move each other, we breathe each other, and we feel serious about that. I don't want to be a ship passing in the night. I don't want to be a lovelorn person. I don't want to feel somehow strange and alienated, and like I'm pinballing around in my world, without contacting you, without getting the sense that, 'By golly, we are deeply connected to each other and we mean it, and we're not making a joke out about that.'"
I do understand that nobody wants to be maudlin or overdrawn, but if you're telling the truth, then you are not being anything of the kind. It's merely a matter of being accurate and true to oneself, in that case. And true to the person with whom you want to have an honest relationship. How are you going to be honest if you are not willing to tell the truth?
Q: That does sound scary.
A: That's why I say love is for the stout of heart. What is love without honesty? So much goes on in the way of hiding, until love itself and even the desire to love becomes hidden. We may have to stop everything, if we need to, to make this contact and to make this commitment. All the games, all the bullshit, all the stuff that would otherwise use up a lifetime very neatly without any problem at all, just like it was a day going by, and bingo! There you are, dying without having experienced a profound, serious relationship, somehow feeling like you missed something.
Love requires that degree of boldness to flower and thrive against the insidious threat of a conventionally trivial lifetime. What could be more threatening to the advent of love than what we ordinarily call personal safety? Love without risk, love without the emotional gamble of putting one's heart on the line, is difficult to imagine.
Q: You're making love sound awfully dangerous.
A: Maybe so. When you are not used to such wholesale commitment, it is hard to indicate it to you without indicating the direction that you have come to presume is risky. The association of love with danger has more to do with unfamiliarity than reality. Perhaps when you get used to it you will find it safe. I believe love is safe. I believe what we now call safety is the ultimate danger. Anyway, it's something to think about, more than that, it's something to experience.

by David Truman

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